Even though Orioles general manager Dan Duquette called free agent right fielder Jose Bautista “a villain in Baltimore” at last month’s Winter Meetings, the executive has been in touch with the longtime Blue Jay’s camp this offseason, according to Jon Morosi of MLB Network (Twitter link).
The degree of the Orioles’ interest in Bautista is unclear (FanRag’s Jon Heyman reported earlier this month that it’s nonexistent), but it’s known that the team is looking for another outfielder, as Duquette indicated last week. Given that negotiations with free agent Mark Trumbo don’t seem to be leading anywhere, the club is also on the hunt for a big bat. Bautista would fill those needs more than other recently Orioles–linked names like Chris Carter, Pedro Alvarez and Brandon Moss, though he’d certainly come at a higher price tag than anyone from that group.
The Orioles would lose a first-round pick if they were to sign Bautista (they would get a later selection as compensation for Trumbo’s exit), but the argument for a bold short-term maneuver like adding him is that they’re built to win now. Third baseman Manny Machado, closer Zach Britton, center fielder Adam Jones and starter Chris Tillman each have two or fewer years of team control remaining, meaning Baltimore’s window to compete for a championship could be on the verge of closing.
Bautista would perhaps help keep the Orioles’ contention chances alive in the near term, but it’s worth noting that the 36-year-old’s only real asset at this point is his bat, which was ordinary by his lofty standards in 2016. In a season limited on account of multiple disabled list stints, Bautista hit .234/.366/.452 in 517 plate appearances – down from the remarkable .268/.390/.555 slash he compiled in 3,604 PAs from 2010-15.
While Bautista clearly wasn’t great in any facet last season, he was still easily above average at the plate and would make up for Trumbo’s absence with aplomb. The right-handed hitter would also provide the Orioles a third credible offensive corner outfielder, joining lefty-swingers Seth Smith and Hyun Soo Kim, as well as a far more established DH option than Trey Mancini.